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  • Writer's pictureVadim Sidorovich

How Sirotka the wolf pup overwintered alone in Naliboki Forest

Updated: Jun 28, 2019

Co-author: Irina Rotenko

By this post we start a new category of the blog posts in relation to life stories of individual wolves, lynxes or other carnivores. The individual carnivore life stories were succeeded to learn a bit by camera-traps and tracking. These stories are often quite complicated and dramatic due to their aggressive predatory behaviour and, in turn, interference from prey and other predator species. Also, people try to kill carnivores as competitors for games and as a potential danger for livestock.

This post category will be rather short, because we could not find out much about particular carnivore individual. However, in our point of view it is worthwhile telling such a brief life story about carnivore individuals that we have learnt as they suggests how complicated and non-standard their life can be. Individual carnivore life stories are so various and never the same.

This first life story post tells about a wolf pup, who appeared alone without parents and faced with the harsh winter conditions. Nevertheless, it has survived by passing through many dramatic events. We called the wolf pup Sirotka that in Belarusian language means an orphan. We think that Sirotka is a male, but it is only a guess.

Sirotka is alone at the former grooming spot of the wolf family he belonged before.

As it has been told in the last post (still given in Belarusian only) Sirotka was raised in the Valiavatka locality of Naliboki Forest within a big family of wolves that consisted of the father, two relative mothers (the breeding mother and her breeding daughter), two litters of the two mothers having ten pups altogether and the two pup-sitters. These two pup-sitters were subordinated by the parents from non-breeding and non-relative females roaming around.

The wolf family in which Sirotka was one of the pups.

In early September this large wolf family was discovered by unknown hunters and they tried to extirpate them. The wolf family was sheltering in high dense grass stand in the Vol'ka small river valley, from where it was hard for the hunters to push them out. In particular, the pups stayed in the grassland surprisingly sticky. Hunters used strong alarm, but succeeded to scare and push out the adult wolves only. The pups still remained in the grassland.

After the hunter attack the adult wolves were afraid to join with the pups for at least three days. Every of these days big male lynx, which we called Bazyl', was present around the pup refuge in the grassland. We registered Bazyl' by camera traps as well as by his tracks on the sand dunes nearby. Actually Bazyl' was present around the wolf family during the whole summer, perhaps, trying to kill the pups, but the pup sitters were around all the time. It looks like during that time, when the adult wolves were absent, Bazyl' lynx killed six pups. Then the adult wolves came back to the pups in the grassland, but there were already only three of adults: father, one mother and one pup-sitter. Perhaps, another mother and one pup-sitter were killed by the hunters. The returned adult wolves had collected the four survived pups and moved to another place in the Valiavatka locality. This new place of the pup stay was situated about two kilometers from the previous one.

That Valivatka house area was well-supplied with prey, and the family stayed there till the mid-October. The adult wolves succeeded to kill a stag red deer and male elk in the proximity to the new house spot of the family. Since the mid November the wolf family began ranging a lot faraway from the house spot. During this time just before overwintering the wolf family hunted and re-established the home range, which the parent wolves used during the previous winter.

One of the pups was evidently suppressed by others, and it was always left to stay in the Valiavatka house area, perhaps feeding on the remains of the killed deer and elk. Also, the lone pup caught small rodents in the grassland of the Vol'ka river valley.

The skulls of male elk (above) and stag (below) that were killed by the wolf family. These prey remains were one of the main foods for Sirotka to survive during winter.

Sirotka, when he was alone, persisting in the harsh conditions of the winter forest.

From time to time the wolf family returned to the Valivatka house area and joined with the lonely staying pup. Once after a night snowfall the wolf family was got in fladry by hunters somewhere faraway from the Valiavatka house area, where all of them were killed. The poor pup, which we started calling Sirotka (i.e. an orphan), appeared alone within the inimical forest. Approximately for a month Sirotka was feeding on the poor remains of the deer and elk as well as trying to catch small rodents. Also, Sirotka excavated many bones that were hidden by him or other pups in the Valiavatka house area before. Sirotka gnawed the bones a lot trying to consume something digestible. For a month Sirotka stayed mainly in that small home spot of about one square kilometer, and sometimes it tried go outside of this house area.

Sirotka in its house area in the late March.

The killed wolves from the family of Sirotka.

Perhaps during one of such a walking Sirotka was subordinated by a pack of stray dogs which stayed like a wolf pack in the forest in the localities of Dushilava, Stashikha and Patashnja. Sirotka persisted a month together with them in those localities that was maximally about ten kilometers away from the Valiavatka house area. Then perhaps it was sent away and came back to the former house area in the Valiavatka locality.

This female dog was a leader of the stray dog pack, in which Sirotka was involved,

Another dog from the feral dog pack, with which Sirotka stasyed quite a long time during the winter. Photo by Cordula Peheim.

After coming back to the house area Sirotka began feeding again on very poor remains of the elk and red deer carcasses as well as he excavated bones (there were surprisingly many of them!) that were cashed before. Also, Sirotka well learned catching of rodents and, actually it lived as a red fox between foraging on rodents and scavenging for carrion. In March its fairly big scats consisted of ungulate bone remains and hair of small rodents. Finally, Sirotka has survived almost alone till spring. Surprisingly, but it is true. However, the Sirotka did not grow enough, and in April it was the same size as in November that is something between a small wolf and a big red fox.

In May Sirotka was still alone and began living on the larger area about ten square kilometers. Sirotka started marking tensely its area by stating that it is its property. The Valiavatka house area was just the occupied territory center.

Hopefully to be continued...

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